Kelly Deck, Tommy Smythe + IDS

This weekend, from September 26th to the 29th, the Interior Design Show takes place at the Vancouver Convention Centre. It’s an exciting four days celebrating creators and design products from across Canada. Over the huge space, you can browse new products, listen to speakers, shop, and snack.

The 2019 list of speakers includes West Coast designer and HGTV star Kelly Deck, House & Home’s founder and publisher Lynda Reeves, and the magazine’s editor, Emma Reddington. Also onstage will be Great Canadian Baking Show judge Bruno Feldeisen, and Marije Vogelzang, the Dutch ‘Grande Dame of eating Design.’

Exhibits this year include Edible Futures: Food for Tomorrow,  curated by the Dutch Institute of Food & Design and presented by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. ‘..Presenting multiple perspectives on global food security issues such as climate change, declining fresh water supply, loss of biodiversity, food waste, and the gap between producers and consumers, Edible Futures asks visitors to imagine what the future of food will look like, and what role each of us might play in changing it.’

As we await this vibrant weekend of design, we can look back to the 2015 IDS when fans  packed into the Keynote Speakers’ zone to see and listen to the ever-engaging designer Tommy Smythe. He and his ‘TV wife’ Sarah Richardson bring great style and wit to shows like Sarah’s House, Sarah’s Cottage, Sarah 101,  Sarah’s Rental Cottage and Sarah Off The Grid.

Flashback to Tommy Smythe @ IDS 2015

When Tommy emerges, the lady on my right is alarmed. “He’s not wearing a bowtie!” she stage whispers.

“I’m wearing more long ties these days,” Smythe explains when she later asks him about the omission. “But, I will wear a bowtie at home when I’m cooking ziti.”

The tie may be different, but Smythe is as witty, gracious and articulate as expected. He is a little hoarse, he explains, after Lainey Lui’s birthday party, but that doesn’t stop him from lauding Vancouver’s design community, sharing his well-honed design insights and fielding questions from the audience.

What should a designer do if clients are picking apart the first bill?

“Fire them,” says Smythe. If you have been clear about what you will charge and clients are challenging the bill, then it is best to cut them loose. Stick with them and you’re in for trouble.

“A personal question, Tommy.”

“ A personal question?” he breaks out the wry grin. “Boxer briefs.”

“When did you decide that you were going to be a designer?”

“Some people are born to do certain things,” says Smythe. He has had a paper and pencil in his hand since he was a kid, Smythe continues. He knew that he was going to grow up to do something creative, but it wasn’t easy.

For a “tiny, gay kid” who grew up in a hockey dynasty family – witness the Conn Smythe trophy awarded to the MVP during the Stanley Cup playoffs – artist was not a failsafe route. Smythe always felt different. He didn’t have a lot of teachers who were encouraging about a design career. “Well, you’re argumentative,” they would say. “Maybe a lawyer?”

Smythe was lucky to have the tremendous support of his parents and extended family. They bolstered his courage to seek a creative life. In his twenties, he thought he might become a fashion designer. He was lured over to interior design, but can live vicariously through his successful fashion designer sister, Christie and the Smythe label she runs with Andrea Lenczner.

Here at the IDS show, Tommy has come with some eye-candy shots from his popular Instagram account and tips for those seeking more beauty in their lives and homes. His advice falls under three main headings: Experience it, Work it and Own it.

1. Experience It
It’s important, Smythe says, to get out into the world and explore new things. Once there, stop for moment and take it all in. For Tommy, travel is “vitally important for my creative spirit.”

Don’t just take the obvious view. “Look up,” he says. In following his own advice, Smythe looked up on Burrard Street, only to spot Vancouver’s Art Deco Building set beautifully against all of our modern high-rise glass.

“Look down. I’m a very short person, so I’m always looking down.” This week, Smythe went to the Vancouver Art Gallery, looked down and was struck by its intricate floors.

And “look around,” as Smythe tries to do in even the most mundane of environments. Scanning left to right has allowed him to see the beauty in subways, a beauty he has captured in a popular photo series.

2. Work it
This is about scholarship, says Smythe, and not just through books. Get out and talk to artists, art dealers and designers. Learn about local art. Stop to read the plaque by a sculpture you admire and find out who created it.

3. Own it
This is about courage, says Smythe. It is being patient in developing your vision, then staying true to your eye, even if others doubt you.

Smythe shows us pictures of a kitchen he designed for his own home. At every turn, people told him that he was doing things wrong. The light fixture was too big. The table was ridiculous; why not have an island? The countertops were a hodge-podge. And who has black cabinets on the bottom and white cabinets on top?

Photographed by Michael Graydon. Canadian House + Home Magazine

Smythe stuck to his vision and that kitchen was featured all over the place. TV shows, magazines, Pinterest boards. “Do the project that you want,” says Smythe. “Do what’s right for you.”

Smythe is in no hurry to rush off the IDS stage and happily fields more questions from the audience. He is generous in singing the praises of other designers within the IDS show and more broadly across Vancouver.

Sadly, there are planes to catch back to Toronto, so Smythe must eventually leave. We can look forward to more of his musings in a Simon and Schuster book due out next year. Word has it that he and Sarah are also filming a super-secret project right now.

Back to the Future

This weekend, back in 2019, we look forward to Deck, Reeves and all of the interior design beauty and wisdom to come!

Vancouver IDS 2019


Written by Elizabeth Newton

Header: Pawel Czerwinski




Pat O'Hara


James Gnam

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton